The Bush Fellowship has been more wonderful and life-changing than I could have imagined over two years ago when I started the application process. Every step in this journey has been influential in my development as a professional and as a leader. The process of applying, from the first step to the last, challenged me to articulate my dreams and perspectives. In the application process, I shared my vision for a greater focus on supporting community development workers through the use of human factors and ergonomics design techniques. As I went through each step in the application process, I was asked to refine my thoughts further and further. Had I not been awarded the Fellowship, I’m sure I would have still reflected on the great importance that applying has played in my life.
When I started my Fellowship I hoped that by the end I would be writing this reflection as a newly minted Ph.D. Somehow, over these two years, I would have found a way to articulate my swirl of dreams and passion into well-constructed strategies and models that others could use. Through new experiences, I had would have unlocked the power of networks, and I would simply need to ride the wave to find the success I sought. Somehow, I thought this journey would be one with a beginning and end. The fellowship would end, and I could check goals off my list. The truth is I’ve only reached the middle of my journey.
I have had to confront the fact that some of my dreams were a fantasy. At the beginning of this journey, I didn’t understand that the new experiences, ideas, and people I would encounter would generate enormous transformations in who I am and in what I believe about the world. I didn’t know these changes would take a sincere effort to evaluate and incorporate into my daily life. It’s been a surprise to learn how long this type of recalibration takes. But, every moment of trying to grapple with these changes has been transformative.
I have learned to reach out to others in a new way. Two years ago, I would have thought it odd to connect with someone for the sole purpose of learning about their work. My worldview was that I should only bother others when I have done my homework and have a clear ask of them. Otherwise, who am I to steal time from their day. The enormous generosity of people with their ideas stands out to me the most. Because of the Fellowship, I was able to cold call people across the world and request time to meet with them in person. The ability to do this, made possible by the funds from the Fellowship, generated deeper connections than an email ever could have. My base level of curiosity and interest in ideas and people has grown exponentially as a result. To those that know me, they would be surprised that this growth is humanly possible.
I wish I had known not to fear the dead-ends and sunk costs I would encounter. My mindset changed somewhere near the middle of my Fellowship. Having taken a trip to Australia and attending several inspiring events, I began to feel the courage to try new ideas and experiences even if they didn’t accomplish what I had hoped. This is a powerful but challenging view to adopt. For example, recently, I realized a project that I had invested enormous time, emotion, and effort into isn’t worth spending more time on. It’s time to stop the project and start over. Bouncing back and needing to start over can feel crushing, but I feel inspired to take the lost time and effort in stride.
Each month I’ve been asked to reflect upon the things that I’ve done to build practices that sustain my leadership. At times I’ve felt guilty for not having done more. There have been months were sustaining my leadership was only an afterthought. During those months, all of my commitments overwhelmed me, and instead of sustaining myself, I was degrading myself. I would often think about what more I could add to my life to help break this bad habit of overwhelming myself. My fellowship plan included more classes, more travel, and more networking. All those have been great, amazing, and life-changing. But, the most surprising has been moments and experiences of less. The times of less on my schedule and less on the to-do list are the ones that have given me the most fulfillment. These times of less have been chances to gain perspective, build deeper connections with the people I love, and be at peace with the person I am. And so, it’s counterintuitive and surprising, but the thing I’ve done to sustain my leadership which has worked the best has been to find ways to do less, not more.